The Georgia Straight Jazz Society keeps it local this week with Loose Gravel on March 5. Comprising five recognized Valley musicians, the band plays largely from the “West Coast Cool School” of jazz, but without the sound of a piano or guitar.
“We’ve taken the Gerry Mulligan Quartet material from 1952-53 as a kicking-off point,” says bassist James Lithgow in an interview the other day. That quartet featured Mulligan on baritone sax, Chet Baker trumpet, Bob Whitlock bass and Chico Hamilton on drums. Often enough Baker was replaced by Bob Brookmeyer on trombone, but Loose Gravel liked the sound of the three horns, so it’s a quintet.”
There are differences large and small between the original Mulligan band and today’s Loose Gravel.
“Whitlock had a pencil thin moustache and we don’t have one of those between us,” says Lithgow, “Instead we stole the idea of no piano or guitar holding down the harmony.”
After a couple of years of playing together these somewhat disparate and diverse personalities have forged a musical unit that rests comfortably on the ear, yet challenges the usual jazz combo lineup.
Additionally, Loose Gravel Quintet features well known multi-instrumentalist Oscar Robles as the other half of Lithgow’s rhythm section. Robles brings not just jazz drumming skills but a real wealth of experience from Flamenco, Funk and World-Beat. While percussion is his main role in Loose Gravel, Robles is also well known for playing guitar and the Stick, a multi-stringed instrument.
“We keep Oscar on the drum as our principal format choice, but as you know, he’s expressive on any percussion from standard kit to dinner cutlery.”
On the front line of Loose Gravel is band-leader Tony Morrison, bringing a multi-reed tool kit of saxophones and flute. Tony is familiar to local audiences across a wide range of styles. Jay Havelaar, on trumpet and flugelhorn, is a musician’s musician, and often the first call in this part of the world for a soloist in any format.
“Originally we were going to get Jay to sing a few tunes a la Chet Baker, but Jay very quickly pointed out that Baker didn’t sing with the Mulligan band in ’52, and besides, he didn’t think there was an audience that would pay to hear him sing,” added Lithgow.
Rounding out the horns is Jeff Agopsowicz, who, along with Nick La Riviere, is half of the Victoria-based Trombone Mayhem.
“Jeff is a recent transplant to the North Island who cut his musical teeth with the military’s Naden Band.” Jay, Jeff and Tony have many years in larger ensembles and relish the opportunity to dig deeper into the melodic content of familiar tunes, especially with the unusual setting of the piano-less Loose Gravel.
“We stick pretty close to original arrangements for all our material, but leave a lot of room for melodic and harmonic spontaneity,” adds Morrison.
“We’re not confined to West Coast Cool,” Lithgow said. “The band does mine earlier and later jazz eras for their material, including tunes by Sidney Bechet, Thelonious Monk, and Duke Ellington.
Come down on Thursday evening and enjoy the sounds of Loose Gravel at the Avalanche Bar and Grill. Attendance is $10 for Jazz Society members and $12 for non-members. Show time is 7:30 p.m. A special dinner menu is available.